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On the Origins of Origins November 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin

The idea of evolution didn’t start with Charles Darwin. No, even the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) referenced earlier ideas (that predated him) and contemplated an internal purpose (related to survival). Aristotle believed that this “internal purposiveness” existed in all living beings and could be passed down through generations. So, if the idea existed before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) was published today in 1859, why did Darwin’s work create such an uproar?

To get to the origins of Origins – or at least the controversy, chaos, and uproar around it, let’s go back to 1852, when Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist used the German term “entwicklungsgeschichte(“development history”), which had previously been used in relation to embryos and single cell organisms, to explain cosmic and biological changes in societies. Spencer would later write an essay coining the phrase “theory of evolution” – in relation to Darwin’s work, but in the same year (1852) that Spencer wrote about cultures having “development history” he also wrote an essay called “The Philosophy of Style” in which he promoted writing “to so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort.” In other words, Spencer advocated writing to make the meaning plain and accessible.

I can’t say for sure how much Darwin himself was influenced by Spencer, but it is very clear that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species for non-specialists. In other words, he wrote it for the masses. And, as it was easily understood (and written by a then esteemed scientist), it became wildly discussed – in the parlors and in the public.

The first big public debate occurred on June 30, 1860 during the British Science Association’s annual meeting at Oxford University. Another big, public spectacle – the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial – started July 10, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee (USA) after substitute teacher John Thomas Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee’s “Butler Act” by teaching evolution during a high school biology class. Tennessee teachers were required, by law, to not teach evolution or deny Intelligent Design (ID) – even though the required text book had a chapter on evolution. By most accounts, Scopes skipped the chapter, but still provided an opportunity to challenge the Act.

While Tennessee’s “Butler Act” was rescinded September 1, 1967, there have been similar legal and pedagogical debates in the United States as recently as 2005 and 2007 (hello, Kansas – where evolution is still officially “an unproven theory”).

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 24th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will see how the practice “evolves.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “Hays Code” playlist dated March 31.]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)



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